Let’s be honest; the United States is currently in the midst of the worst economic mess since the Great Depression. At least 1 of every 10 people is out of work. Money is tight and we must make every dollar count like we never have before. The food budget is a place where you can save money you never thought possible. There are ways to cut your grocery bill and still provide your family with delicious and nutritious meals. That is what this column is all about. I will share tips that I have learned over a lifetime of cooking and buying groceries on what were sometimes very tight budgets. We will cover both the purchase of groceries (including the best ways to shop sales, coupons and generic products) and the preparation of meals (including made from scratch VS packaged and quick simple recipes).
The best way to save money on food is to buy the items you need as cheaply as possible. Even though this sounds like a no-brainer, you would be surprised how many people are paying more than they have to for groceries. Everyone knows that you need to buy items on sale, but that is only part of the plan. The key word in that sentence is “plan.” You have to plan your grocery shopping and not just go to your favorite store and hope that they have what you need cheaper than everyone else. Many people buy their groceries at only one store, mostly for the convenience factor. By doing this they are throwing away money. With just a little effort, you can truly find the best prices on what you buy.
- Using the internet, locate all of the grocery stores within a 10-15 minute drive from your home. You don’t want to drive too far and waste both gas and time. In the Phoenix area the major food retailers are (in alphabetical order) Albertson’s, Basha’s, Fry’s, Safeway, Target Supercenter and Wal-Mart (both Supercenters and Neighborhood Markets). If there are other stores in your neighborhood, you may want to check them too.
- Make a list of the foodstuffs that you buy regularly and go to each one of the stores in your area. (In the Marines we would call this a Reconnaissance or “Recon” mission) Compare the EVERYDAY prices on each of these items. The store with the lowest everyday prices should be your “Base” store where you buy items not on sale that week. As prices fluctuate, you will have to update this from time to time.
- Study the weekly ads. Weekly sale ads are included in the local paper on Wednesday and most people receive them in the mail as well. If you do not receive an ad for a particular store, you can read their ad on the store’s website. With each ad, write down the sale prices on items you want to buy, and then compare your notes. You will find that stores will sometimes have the same items on sale at vastly different sale prices, especially around holidays. Wal-Mart and Target do not have food sales in the same sense that the others do so their ads may provide little information. Some of the stores will match sale prices from other stores on the same items so take that into consideration also.
- Make a list. Retailers of all kinds rely on you making “impulse” purchases. Grocery stores are no different. That is why they have displays near the checkouts and entrances/exits as well as “end caps” on each aisle. If you have a list and stick to it, you will avoid these extras. You can also use the list to decide which stores you will visit and in what order, saving gas and time.
Well, that is it for this go-round. Next time we will explore the best way to shop sales, store memberships and coupons. Until then remember It’s YOUR money, use it wisely.